DUBAI // Qatar's Nasser al Attiyah is hoping to eclipse his compatriot Misfer Al Marri and wrap up a sixth regional crown in this weekend's 25th Dubai International Rally - the season-ending round of the Middle East Rally Championship [MERC]. "This round is crucial for me as this is the last round in the calendar," said al Attiyah, who has also represented his country in skeet shooting at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "The outcome will not just decide who walks away with the Dubai prize, but also the overall championship title."
Despite entering only four of the season's six rounds, al Attiyah has won them all. He leads the MERC standings on 40 points, three ahead of al Marri, while the Saudi driver Yazeed al Rajhi, who has amassed 32 points in four rallies, is also in contention. Nine stages, covering 265.7 competitive kilometres, will decide the destiny of this season's title, with the field tackling five stages tomorrow and four on Saturday. And rally organisers believe it is the perfect route to determine a worthy champion.
"The Dubai International Rally has decided the MERC champion many times over the years," said Mohammed ben Sulayem, the president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and 14-time regional rally champion. "This year in particular, the championship is still very wide open between the top two contenders, al Attiyah and al Marri, with al Rajhi waiting in the wings for either to make a mistake."
Amid the tight title picture, al Attiyah remains the clear favourite. The Qatari is chasing a fifth consecutive Dubai win and only UAE driver Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi's 2004 MERC triumph has interrupted his regional dominance in recent years. But with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver not among the Dubai entrants after a demanding World Rally Championship season, only al Marri and al Rajhi can stop al Attiyah making it six championships out of seven.